China's Stemirna raises $188M to fund mRNA COVID-19 vaccine

China’s Stemirna Therapeutics has raised RMB 1.2 billion ($188 million) to bankroll development of an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19. Sequoia Capital China co-led the financing with backers including WuXi AppTec plus assists from OrbiMed and other investors. 

Stemirna set up shop in 2016 and went on to raise around $14 million in series A funding three years later. With BioNTech and Moderna validating mRNA in the pandemic with highly successful COVID-19 vaccines, Stemirna has expanded its investor syndicate and raised a far larger round to take its own coronavirus prophylactic deeper into the clinic. 

“The new generation mRNA vaccine candidates, which are to be effective against variants spreading in South Africa, Brazil and India, is due to enter a phase 2 clinical trial soon alongside a plan for phase 3 clinical trial overseas,” Stemirna CEO Li Hangwen, M.D., Ph.D., in the statement shared with DealStreetAsia.

Stemirna will use some of the cash to build two facilities to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine a year, according to Reuters. The facilities could be completed by August. 

Sequoia Capital China co-led the round with state-backed China Merchants Medical and Healthcare Industry Equity Fund, WuXi AppTec and Greenwoods Investment. OrbiMed, Advantech Capital, Guoxin Guotong, Efund, Forebright, Tsing Song Capital and CITIC Securities also participated in the round.

Stemirna attracted investor support despite trailing the global leaders in the development of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, although other technologies are currently at the heart of the effort to immunize people in China. MRNA vaccines could come to play a bigger role in China in the future if BioNTech partner Fosun Pharma wins approval and home-grown candidate ARCoV comes to market.